Men’s final preview: Djokovic v Tsitsipas

  • Matt Trollope

Prior to Roland Garros, interviewed Australian tennis experts to discuss the favourites for the title and the storylines that would most capture their attention as the tournament got underway.

Regarding storylines, two distinct narratives emerged from those conversations.

"I love the battle now between (Novak) Djokovic and (Rafael) Nadal for Grand Slam titles,” Jelena Dokic said. “Nadal, if he wins this, would have his 21st Grand Slam, which would be insane. Djokovic potentially getting to 19 and closing the gap would be extremely interesting.”

Todd Woodbridge countered: "I'm really hoping we see these younger guys refuse to bow down to Rafa and Novak, and go: ‘You know what? You've had your time. This is mine.’ 

“You've got to think that this is getting so close, and this could be that tournament.”

Those storylines collide when Djokovic takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s men’s singles final in Paris. 

On the brink of greatness

Djokovic, thanks to an unforgettable upset win over 13-time French champion Nadal in their four-hour semifinal, has moved to within one victory of creating tennis history and adding yet more texture to the ongoing “GOAT debate”.

The 34-year-old would become the first man in the Open Era to win each of the four majors at least twice.

He would become the first man to defeat Nadal in Paris and go on to win the title.

REPORT: Djokovic beats Nadal in epic, meets Tsitsipas in Roland Garros final 

He would keep alive his bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam, following his triumph at Australian Open 2020.

And he would win a 19th Grand Slam singles title to close in on Nadal and Roger Federer, who own 20 each.

This would set the stage for an unmissable edition of Wimbledon, where Djokovic – the two-time defending champion at SW19 – would be favoured tie the Grand Slam “arms race” at 20-20-20.

A new era?

While the headiness of Djokovic’s potential milestones threaten to dominate the conversation around the final, one cannot forget what Tsitsipas stands to achieve.

After beating Alexander Zverev in five sets to win his first Grand Slam semifinal in four attempts, 22-year-old Tsitsipas will aim to become the youngest Grand Slam singles champion since Juan Martin del Potro won the 2009 US Open almost 12 years earlier.

He would break the stranglehold Djokovic and Nadal currently have over the majors; the duo have won nine of the past 10 Slams, with only Dominic Thiem bucking the trend at last year’s US Open.

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Thiem, however, did not have to face either Djokovic or Nadal on his path to the title.

Victory for Tsitsipas could represent a true “dethroning” or “baton-passing” moment, and would see him become just the second player in history born in the 1990s, after Thiem, to hoist a Grand Slam single trophy. 

“I'm looking forward to bring my game to kind of challenge myself to step it up,” said Tsitsipas, who is already guaranteed to crack the top four after Roland Garros, and who would rise to a career-high ranking of No.3 with victory.

“There is the final, which is exciting. I'm looking forward on leaving my entire body on the court.”

The match-up

The legend-versus-challenger narrative is further cemented by the fact that this men’s singles final features the largest age gap between competitors since the 2005 US Open final, when Federer faced Andre Agassi.

Both players take 10-match winning streaks into this final, with Djokovic winning the ATP Belgrade title the week before Roland Garros, and Tsitsipas triumphing in Lyon a week before that. 

Djokovic, after losing two of his first three matches against Tsitsipas, has won the past four meetings to lead the head-to-head series 5-2 – including 3-0 on clay.

However, Tsitsipas pushed him to the brink of defeat in their two most recent meetings; on clay in Rome just a few weeks ago, and in last year’s Roland Garros semifinals. 

“Obviously Tsitsipas, first time in the finals of a Grand Slam … it's a great achievement, but I'm sure he doesn't want to stop there,” Djokovic said. 

“He's in great form. I think he matured as a player a lot. Clay arguably his best surface. We played an epic five-setter last year in the semis here.

“I know it's going to be another tough one. I'm hoping I can recharge my batteries (after the Nadal semifinal) as much as I can because I'm going to need some power and energy for that one.”